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Home / Top Posts / Roz’s Christmas Wonderland

Roz’s Christmas Wonderland

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by Andrea Shreeman

Los Angeles legend, Rosalind Wyman, died in October at the age of 92. Roz Wyman was the youngest person ever elected to Los Angeles City Council at age 22. She served for 12 years from 1953 – 1965, went on to become a political icon who especially championed female politicians, and is credited with bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957.

Roz Wyman (top left) being sworn in for her third city council term, accompanied by her kids Betty and Bobby. (Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via KCET.org)

After an early graduation from college, I stayed in Washington, D.C. to continue performing with my comedy group and apply to grad schools. I also worked at the Four Seasons Fitness Club.

When I opened the fitness center each morning, in the dark at 4:30 a.m., Bob Shrum, a well-known democratic political pundit, would breathe icy breath on the doors, waiting for me to let him in.

When I told Bob I had gotten into USC for grad school and was moving to Los Angeles, he offered to introduce me to his friend, Roz.

I remember pulling up to Roz’s Bel Air home for the first time. It was exactly what you would imagine, a grand circular driveway, a thick wooden front door made for giants, a grove of fruit trees, a tennis court, a pool, a mid-century, all-glass, pool house where a handful of celebrities and politicians stayed for weeks on end, or lived after divorces, and a main house with so many rooms it was easy to get lost.

Democratic National Convention celebration 1960. (Courtesy of Roz Wyman via LAmag.com)

When I arrived in 1991, it was a relic, still decorated in elegant 60’s mod. I sat with Roz in her library the first time we met, on a low leather couch, surrounded by portraits of dignitaries, Roz with Lyndon Johnson, Roz with JFK, and a coveted portrait of her husband Eugene who had died from a heart attack in 1973.

That was the day that Roz invited me to live in her home while I attended grad school. In exchange, all I needed to do was babysit her three-year-old granddaughter, Samantha, who lived with her parents across town in Larchmont.

Mostly, I kept to my room and the kitchen. But during holiday time I was welcomed into Roz’s home, especially for her much anticipated yearly Christmas party which included a cocktail hour, sit-down dinner, and gift exchange. Roz, it turns out, was a Hanukkah-bush-Jew.

I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas, and I was definitely not a Hanukkah-bush-Jew. I was, however, a Hillbilly Jew; a very special kind of Jew born and raised in small-town Appalachia, who is constantly being reminded that they are going to hell, because 1) they don’t believe in Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, and 2) they murdered Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior.

I could tell something big was coming when around mid-November the estate began to transform. Every day a new Bel Air-sized decoration would spawn in a corner, or from the ceiling, until the entire public-facing side of the first floor – from the elegant high-ceilinged living room, through the dining area, and the bar, and the solarium, and the leather-bound library – were all sprinkled in evergreen, snow and cheer.

One of the main attractions in Roz’s Christmas Wonderland was a beautiful working antique toy train that meandered all through that extensive series of rooms. I can still hear its cheery chug, chug, chug, chug and whistle.

It was Christmas Eve, and the house was all abuzz with finishing touches. Roz had never asked me to do anything for her, not a damn thing. I lived in her mansion for free! But on this day, in the stress-inducing, last hours before the biggest gathering of the year, Roz asked me if I could run down to the Brent Air Pharmacy and get some cotton for snow, for the big train display centerpiece. She handed me a crisp twenty and sent me on my way.

Andrea with Sam Wyman Bilow 1992. (Selfie by Andrea Shreeman)

Never having been tasked with such a thing in my life, never having a single real day of Christmas experience, I entered the Brent Air Pharmacy with that crisp twenty and asked the pharmacist if they had any cotton, to use for snow, on a Christmas display. And he responded,

“No. But we do have cotton balls.”

So… I bought as many bags of cotton balls as one could secure at an over-priced pharmacy in 1991 for twenty dollars. I then proudly hightailed it back to the mansion. The look on Roz’s face when I held up those cotton ball bags. Her face twisted like a piece of taffy into the absolute fullest expression of horrified disappointment. I didn’t know yet what it meant to not come back until the job is done to the highest possible standard.

And remember, I was a Hillbilly Jew, the operative word being, “Hillbilly,” or maybe “Jew!” I honestly don’t know how it got resolved, because Roz decided right then and there I couldn’t be trusted with anything that mattered. (Except, of course, her granddaughter.)

Over the next months and years I would come to discover that Roz’s discontent, the way she twisted her face in horror, that look that made me feel like an idiot and a failure, was part of her trademark, tough-love style. Everyone was an idiot. Her standards were immaculate.

When I think about traditions, like Roz’s Christmas party, I get anxious. I’m not sure I want to be responsible for making consistently great memories over and over again, every year, at the same time, in the same way. Somehow, I feel trapped by traditions.

But, I also miss traditions. And, I miss Roz’s trademark look of disappointment.

She was a matriarch for the ages. And not just for a family that came to depend on her annual Christmas wonderland. She cast her tough love over Los Angeles, over California, over democracy, and over me.

Rosalind W. Wyman died peacefully, surrounded by friends and family, on the evening of October 26th, 2022 in her home in Bel Air, California.

In her honor, this year I acquired and decorated my very first Christmas tree. Perhaps, a new tradition? I guess it’s never too late to become a Hanukkah-bush-Jew.

Andrea’s first Christmas tree, December 2022. (Courtesy of Andrea Shreeman)

Andrea Shreeman is a writer, director, and host of The Hero Maker Podcast. She holds a BA in Radio & TV Broadcasting from George Washington University and an MFA in Theatre from USC, which she attended while living in Roz Wyman’s Bel Air home.

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